Olive Morris Memorial Awards Ceremony
Photo: ROC members and winners of the Olive Morris Memorial Award. Courtesy of Robert Logan.
On Friday 2 December 2011, the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) gathered for the last time at the Karibu Centre in Brixton, to celebrate the legacy of Olive Morris with a series of awards made to young women activists of Asian and African descent.
This was the last public event of ROC, which has now officially disbanded. An award of £300 each was made to 5 young activists, and an additional special award of £100 was made to the youngest nominee. All of them were selected from an open call for nominations, and the awards were made in recognition to their activist work on issues affecting black communities and in particular black women. There are no prescribed requirements on how they can use the award, nor the need to report back. ROC envisioned the award simply as a small gift to those who already give so much of their time and resources to others.
The evening started with dinner prepared by the staff at the Karibu, and those in attendance were also able to see some of the original boards of Liz Obi’s exhibition about Olive Morris, plus some additional documents from the Olive Morris Collection at Lambeth Archives. Throughout the evening we enjoyed a fantastic live DJ set by JDA Kut. All our thanks to her for stepping in at very short notice!
Photo: Liz Obi’s exhibition at the Karibu. Courtesy of Marcia Bogle-Mayne.
The awards ceremony started with Mike McColgan (Olive’s long term partner), Jennifer Lewis (Olive’s sister) and Liz Obi (co-founder of ROC) welcoming the audience and speaking briefly about Olive’s legacy and the work that ROC had done to connect different generations of activists through the sharing of community memories carried forward in the Olive Morris Collection, and through campaigning and public events.
Photo: Mike McColgan addressing the audience, Jennifer Lewis next to him. Courtesy of Robert Logan.
Photo: Liz Obi introducing the Awards. Courtesy of Robert Logan.
ROC members took turns to introduce each of the awardees and invited them to share with the audience details of the political work they are involved in. All awardees are under 27 years of age, and it was a real privilege for ROC to be able to honour the dedication, passion, and the radicalism of their political vision. In the aftermath of the August 2011 riots, it felt important to remember that THIS IS THE YOUTH that mainstream media and politicians don’t want to acknowledge or give air time to, as they clearly don’t serve their neo-liberal agendas. It is up to all of us to sustain these young people in their struggles, so please read about this inspiring young women, spread the word, and support their work in any way that you can.
The winners of the Olive Morris Memorial Award 2011 are:
Nominated by Theodora Middleton
Award introduced by ROC member Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre
Brenda’s work as an artist and community activist has inspired a great many grassroots campaigns, working around similar issues that Olive was engaged by – spanning issues such as squatting, supporting community centres, climate change and anti-racism. Some of the groups and campaigns she had created work for include SQUASH (Squatters’ Action for Secure Homes), Squattastic, campaigning against the criminalisation of squatting, Transition Heathrow and the community squat project Grow Heathrow next to Heathrow airport. Brenda is currently involved with Brandalism, a growing network of youth and street artists and activists, who utilise street art as an Art of Self Defence that critically challenges the authority of private interests within the public realm – the commons. You can see Brenda’s artwork at her blog:
Photo: Ria speaking about her anti-racist activist work. Courtesy of Robert Logan.
Nominated by Linton Kwesi Johnson
Award introduced by ROC member Emma Allotey
Ria Hylton is an anti-racist activist working with the civil rights campaigning organisation Movement for Justice. The breath of her activism is impressive and she has been described as a very confident and mature organiser despite her young age. Ria has a long standing commitment to the campaign to demand the re-trial of Mumia Abdul Jamal in the USA, and in 2011 she was involved in organising student demonstrations against the abolition of EMA and the introduction of tuition fees, and organising with the NUT and TUC the marches against the cuts to education and welfare. She was involved in the successful campaign against the deportation of Edson Comas, and is currently also campaigning for the rights of LBGT communities, in particular in relationship to deportations of asylum seekers seeking sanctuary for gender and sexuality persecution in their countries of origin.
Nominated by Aneaka Kellay
Award introduced by ROC member Rakhee Kewada
Mirella’s political work has included asylum seeker and refugee support and campaigning in Glasgow, supporting women living with HIV and AIDS in Northampton, and multiracial youth work in Oxford. She has been an organiser and squatter with the OK Café in Manchester, a temporary social centre project that existed between 1998-2002 and was re-launched in 2010 by a new collective. Mirella currently spends most of her time organising with So We Stand, a UK-wide popular education collective focusing on environmental justice. One aspect of this is manifested in her focus on the gender inequality of environmental racism, running a programme to share stories among communities of women of colour in Glasgow and Manchester, of injustices battled and won. The project Women, Our Environments and Justice is building a UK-wide network of support by and for women of colour facing environmental racism. Mirella has been an organiser of So We Stand’s Black Gold Injustice programme of events in collaboration with Glasgow’s African Caribbean Network, the Remember Saro Wiwa campaign, and Capacity Global. This project with Black communities in Scotland, aims to draw connections between environmental justice and racism. Mirella is also developing the political education programme for So We Stand organisers and collaborators: We Are Mighty, aiming to reinvigorate engagement with radical ideas and re-imagine the supplementary schools model, for mature learners.
Nominated by Melanie Singh
Award introduced by ROC member Ashley Whitfield
Nim is an independent and kick ass activist that works with people, groups and communities to build bridges and make connections between the immediate environmental threats of climate change, their racial and social implications and other connected injustices. Through her work with So We Stand, she trains, facilitates and works directly with communities that fight against sites of racial and environmental injustice in their lives. The recent riots in Tottenham and North East London highlight the urgency for recognition of the social impact of environmental injustice, these incredibly ethnically diverse and poor areas live literally in the industrial waste of the UK – in their immediate locality is one of the UKs only waste incinerators, the North Circular ring road, countless industrial outlets and factories and some of the worst overcrowding in the UK. This area of work has taken Nim to Southall, to train communities there to take action against a gas works site that they’ve been organising against for the past decade. She also works part time for MOSAIC, a member-led black and mixed parentage anti-racist group. More specifically Nim is currently organising on two key projects additionally to the above. A Summer School for young activists (an intensive 2-week introduction to community organizing and social change) and Mapping the UKs environmentally polluting sites, and their social locations (researching all the physical sites of injustice in the UK – airports, incinerators, landfills, gas works etc – and simultaneously laying them over the top of a map of the social demographics (population statistics on poverty, BME population, gender) of the UK to visually and accurately show the social implications of environmentally damaging practice).
Photo: Rukaya addressing the audience as he receives her award. Courtesy of Robert Logan.
Nominated by Symeon Brown
Award introduced by ROC member Sheila Ruiz
Rukayah began her activism at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) as a grassroots organiser working particularly for black women. She became black officer in her Student Union running campaigns against racism and for increased black representation. She then began running public lectures on black feminism and the history of the women’s movement in Britain to mobilise young women to activism. So far she has run the lectures series: Myth of the black superwoman and History of the women’s movement. She co-founded the campaign against the London School of Economics that called for the removal of a racist academic that promoted the argument that black women were less attractive than other women. She has been featured in a number of left wing journals such as Ceasfire where she spoke against the white wash of beauty. She has since joined the Labour Party and become their Women’s chair, one of the youngest ever in Streatham. She now works in political monitoring.
Photo: 18 year old Iman receiving her award. Courtesy of Robert Logan.
Nominated by Sukant Chandan
Award introduced by ROC members Alex Molano and Ego Ahaiwe
Iman described herself as the child of “brilliantly militant black parents”. As a Girl Guide, the unit Iman was part of (3rd Holborn) was the first in the whole division that wasn’t predominantly white. This unit then was at the forefront of an effort to push for more diversity not only in her division but Girl Guiding UK. Initially it was driven by Iman and her friends going on division camps and noticing that their unit were the ONLY unit that had Guides of different ethnicities so through to youth clubs, mosques, churches and Sunday schools, Iman got her peers of different ethnic backgrounds to flood their local girl guiding units so that they could ALL benefit. At her 6th form college, Iman and her friends founded a collective called Roots during black history month where we collectively researched, studied and shared history with each other. Eventually the collective took the direction of helping lower school students in year 7, 8 and 9 (who had been deemed trouble by teachers) research and learn about their own history and cultures. This went beyond Black History month and lasted for two terms. The boys involved were those who spent regular time in the expulsion room. Iman has also gone to Cuba several times, including managing to convince her school authorities to take a school trip there a few years ago.
Other young women nominated for the Olive Morris Memorial Award were Amanda Brefo, Amisha Ghadiali, Asmita Chauhan, Cynthia Masiyiwa and Munira Mohamed. Munira attended the awards ceremony and we invited her to share details of her work with the audience.
Since the age of 18 Munira have been a youth leader for youth-led forum SE1 United a space that gives voice to local young people from BME communities. She is also heavily involved with Stopwatch Youth group, an action/research group that campaign for accountable and fair policing in BME communities, particularly looking at Stop and Search powers that are 7 times more likely to be deployed in Black communities. Along with other members of the Youth group Munira produced a short-film Profiles of the Profiled, which looks at the experience that minority groups have of being Stopped and Searched and the Impact that this has on the community. Munira is a learning mentor in a school where she works with students with complex needs and behavioural problems, and runs a literacy program for students with dyslexia or low reading ages. In terms of direct-action, she has organised and choreographed a Zombie-thriller flash-mob (Zombie bank-run) with OLX and was involved in the running of a few free schools. Currently she is trying to set up a self-help housing project as well as a community project Seat for the Nation giving voice to the unheard.
We wrapped up the evening with a group photo of ROC members and all the awardees. There was some talk amongst those present about trying to form a working group to organise a re-run of the Olive Morris Award next year. If you would like to support this effort by helping to fundraise and organise it, making a donation, or nominating a young black woman activist, please get in touch via the Comments box at the foot of this post.